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Z’manim in Halacha, Part 3

When does a fast end? You may have noticed that the modern printed calendars offer a number of alternatives. For example, the Ittim L’vina calendar gives three, all claculated as some time after sunset. Here is how the issue is presented in the Talmud (Taanith 12a):

R. Hisda further said: A fast over which the sun has not set cannot be deemed a fast. An objection was raised against this. The men of the watch fast but do not complete [the day]. [Their fasting] is merely in order to afflict themselves [in sympathy with the community].

Seemingly, R’ Hisda means to say that a fast should go on until sunset, but it does not need to go beyond that. In early halachic literature, the running assumption is that the fast ends when the day ends, which is usually assumed to be sunset.

There is another source in the Yerushalmi that says that when the moonlight is bright enough to shine on the earth, the fast is certainly over. On the tenth of Teveth or the ninth of Av, when the moon is basically large and high in the sky shortly after sunset, this threshold is reached not considerably later.

Here is where the issue becomes kind of fuzzy. As we mentioned earlier, Rabbeinu Tam’s position concerning a second sunset was widely accepted, and therefore for many years the practice followed his opinion, namely that a fast is only out at the end of that second “sunset”, at what Rabbeinu Tam deemed nightfall, roughly an hour after the nightfall described by the G’onim and Maimonides. Therefore, for example, the Tur and the Shulhan Aruch declare that public fast days end at what they call nightfall, which is much later than what is now the standard practice, while Maimonides and other Rishonim would tell you that the fast comes to an end actually at sunset. We also read about the influence of the Vilna Gaon and the Chofetz Chaim led to a renaissance for the use of the old system of calculating times based on actual sunset and sunrise, we would think that the old practice of ending fast days at sunset would have also made a comeback, but instead the calendars use a strange compromise: fast days end at nightfall, as per Rabbeinu Tam’s position, but nightfall is defined according to the G’onim’s position, and because it is a later compromise, it does not fit with a classic understanding of the sources. A practical example: if the sun were to set at 6pm on Tzom Gedalya, then according to G’onim the fast would end at sunset,* while according to Rabbeinu Tam and the Shulchan Aruch it would end about an hour later, while the calendars say that the fast would be over at 6:18., 6:27, or 6:36pm. 

This is yet another example of what we have seen in other cases about how tzeith hakochavim, nightfall, used to only matter for purification, the departure of the sabbath and holidays, and for reading the sh’ma, but came to be the time for the performance of other commandments.

*Public policy would likely be to wait a few minutes after that because of the common cases of when it might be difficult to determine exactly when the sunsets, but it would not need to be more than a few minutes, because on most days the sunset is visible, and even when it is obscured, darkness begins to set in.

May The Year End Along With Its Curses

M’gilla 31b:

It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Eleazar says: Ezra enacted for Israel that they should read the curses in Leviticus before Pentecost and those in Deuteronomy before New Year. What is the reason? — Abbayei – or maybe Resh Lakish – said: So that the year may end along with its curses. I grant you that in regard to the curses in Deuteronomy you can say, ‘so that the year should end along with its curses’. But as regards those In Leviticus — is Pentecost a New Year? — Yes; Pentecost is also a New Year, as we have learned: ‘Pentecost is the new year for [fruit of] the tree’.

In practice this means that we read B’huqqothai (the section in Leviticus with the curses, commonly known as the tochaha) before Pentecost, and Ki Thavo, which has the latter tochaha, the second to last week of the year.

Now, why specifically would the curses of Leviticus be prescribed for the Pentecost season, while the Deuteronomic curses be saved for New Year’s? The Maharsha offers the following in response to the Tosafists’ analysis of some of the finer points related to our annual cycle of Torah reading. (For instance, in years such as 5776, why do we separate the already short parasha of Nitzavim-Wayeilech into two even shorter readings, and not separate the unusually long double reading of Mattoth-Masei?):

The main challenge should be that since Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the year, he should start [the reading cycle] with Genesis, which is the beginning of the Torah and the creation of the world, and he should do this immediately, [i.e.] on the first Sabbath after Rosh Hashana. And the answer [of the Talmud] is so that the year should end with its curses, etc. [i.e., the parasha with the curses should precede Rosh Hashana by a little more than week.]

The problem is that the Maharsha’s explanation assumes that we would be able to read according to this approximate weekly schedule every year. However, the Talmud previously mentioned:

If it [the New Moon of Adar] falls on the portion next to it [the portion of Sh’qalim], whether before or after, they read it and repeat it’. Now this creates no difficulty for one who holds that Ki Thissa is read because [the regular portion containing this passage] falls about that time. But according to the one who says that passage of the daily offering (from Pin’has) is read — does [the portion containing that passage] fall about that time? — Yes, [sometimes] for the people of Palestine, who complete the reading of the Pentateuch every three years.

That is, it makes sense that we could time our annual cycle such that the end of Leviticus is read before Pentecost and the end of Deuteronomy is read at the end of the year, but for those (ancient) Israelis who complete the Torah-reading cycle once every three years, it could not be done. It seems that either those special readings of the curses, like the other seasonal readings (Zachor, Sh’qalim, etc.) were not read as the maftir readings appended to the weekly readings, but rather as readings that substituted for the weekly Sidra, or that the curses were read as the maftir readings appended to the weekly readings of the triennial cycle. A triennial cycle would require about three times as many weekly readings as we have today, but it would also allow for much shorter readings, readings that could be studied more in depth every week due to their brevity. In the introductions to the early editions to the Koren bible, the editors pointed out that the simanim, the notes that were used to divide the books of the bible before the usual chapters that the printers introduced, may have been the markers for the old cycle. Therefore, it could not be that they could time that the end of Leviticus be before Pentecost and the end of Deuteronomy at the end of the year every year. The question therefore returns: why did the sages ordain that each section of curses be read at a specific time of year?

The answer, I believe, is based on textual clues and cues that appear in both series of curses.

In Leviticus 23:15-17 (in Parashath Emor) we find the commandment to observe the Festival of Shavu’oth, literally, “weeks,” (what we call in English and Greek “Pentecost”, meaning “day fifty,”) which is also described as the day of the Bikkurim, the first fruits:

You shall count for yourselves from the day after the sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks that shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week shall you number fifty days; and you shall present a new meal-offering unto the Lord.  You shall bring out of your dwellings two wave-loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked leavened, for first-fruits unto the Lord.

This section is the source for the commandment to count every day of the Omer. Each seven days add to a week, and the sages concluded that we should keep a running count of total weeks and days until the count is complete and the fiftieth day is to be a holiday. (Note also how this section describes the communal “first-fruit” offering; the offering of individuals is described later.)

Then in the next Parasha, B’har, we encounter another series of seven sevens adding to fifty (25:8-10):

And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and there shall be for you the days of seven sabbaths of years, [a total of] forty and nine years. Then you shall sound the blast of the horn on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall you sound with the horn throughout all your land. You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and you shall return every man to his possession, and you shall return every man unto his family.

Finally, the next chapter, the curses we mentioned above, has another recurring theme of sevens: seven sets of punishments, which are meant to “chastise you seven times for your sins.” The ultimate punishment, the desolation of the land, comes to atone for “walking with God in qeri, happenstance,” and for all the Sabbatical years that went unobserved.

Thus, the text of Leviticus thematically connects its curse with the holiday of Pentecost. What does it mean to walk with god in happenstance? This is an expression God told Moses to communicate. In Moses’s own words, in the curses in Deuteronomy, Moses describes the wrong way to worship God as “not serving the Lord your God in happiness.” Someone who is faithful sees God’s hand and providence in history, and attributes nothing to coincidence. His religious experience is one of joy. The festivals and the commandments related to them are meant to bring the people to the state of happiness. This is explicated at the beginning of Ki Thavo which introduces the curses of Deuteronomy (26:2-10)

You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground which you shall bring in from your land that the Lord your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket; and you shall go unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there…  You shall set it down before the Lord your God, and prostrate yourself before the Lord your God. You shall rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given unto you and your household, you, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in your midst.

Thus, both sets of curses are preceded by the commandment to bring the first fruits, which is meant to bring the Jewish people to a state of happiness in the service of God, the state that allows them to enjoy the blessings and avoid the curses, and on this point alone, we could understand why either set could have been chosen for the public reading leading up to Pentecost or Rosh Hashana, but because the curses in Leviticus are more directly connected to the seven-sevens theme leading up to Pentecost, they were prescribed for that season.

Q&A: Why Was Moses Told Exactly How To Blow His Trumpets?

Question: It says in Parashath B’ha’aloth’cha (Numbers 10:1-10) that Moses was to make himself two silver trumpets and have them blown thusly:

When they shall blow (w’thaq’u) with them, all the congregation shall gather themselves unto you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And if they blow (yithqa’u)  with only one, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto you. And when you blow an alarm (t’ru’a), the camps that lie on the east side shall take their journey. And when you blow an alarm (t’ru’a) a second time, the camps that lie on the south side shall set forward; they shall blow an alarm for their journeys. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, ye shall blow (tithq’u), but you shall not sound an alarm (lo-thari’u).

We see that God commanded that t’qi’oth be blown when Moses needed to assemble people and t’ru’oth (accompanied by t’qi’oth, similarly to the way we blow t’ru’oth on Rosh Hashana – Rashi) were to be blown when the people marched. Why did He have to command it that way? Couldn’t God have left it to Moses (and the Leaders) to devise their own signals, say t’ru’oth for assembly and t’qi’oth for marching, or some other combination?

Answer: I have not seen this explicitly elsewhere, but I believe the answer lies in the traditional difference between the t’qi’a, which is traditionally a long, simple sound, and the t’ru’a, a complex sound. Note how the JPS translates the t’qi’a as either a blow or a blast, while the t’ru’a is translated as an alarm. That is not mistake. The Talmud reports how the identity of the sound of the t’ru’a was eventually the subject of controversy: was it what we now call sh’varim, what we call t’ru’a, or what we call sh’varim-t’ru’a? What is agreed upon is that the sound is complex, and certainly not the simple sound known forever as t’qi’a. The t’ru’a is the sound we are commanded to blow on Rosh Hashana, and out of doubt we sound all three possibilities, and each variation of t’ru’a is preceded and proceeded by a t’qi’a. The t’r’ua is the sound that has meaning. In the subsequent verses we read:

And when you go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm (waharei’othem) with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow (uthqa’tem) with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.

That is, the t’ru’a is the sound we are to make when trouble is afoot, whereas the t’qi’a is an expression of Joy. The t’ru’a is a sound that is supposed to wake us up and alert us to the fact that we have to pray. There is much that our sages have to say about this with regards to the sounding of the t’ru’a on Rosh Hashana. I am reminded of the story Rabbi Soloveitchik would tell of the Lubavitcher Hasid who cried before sounding the shofar; I am also reminded of the closing benediction of the shofaroth prayers, “Blessed art Thou, Who heareth the sound of the t’ru’a of His people, Israel, with mercy.” Similarly, in the third chapter of Tractate Ta’anith, the t’ru’a is the sound that accompanies the prayers in times of war or drought, while the t’qi’a is used for assembly.

Moses was given the commandment to make and use these trumpets while the people were still encamped at Horeb and preparing to march to the Hoy Land and make war. Their camps were placed into military formation. War is a time of trouble and danger, so it fitting that t’ru’a be sounded when the camp was to begin marching. I believe that Moses understood this implicit message, because a few verses later it says:

And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them that hate You flee before You.’

That is, Moses saw that the time for marching was a time for prayer.

The “Sin” Offering of the Nazirite

Numbers 6:13-14:

This is the law of the nazirite: On the day the term of his nazirite vow is completed, he shall present himself at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He shall bring his offering to the Lord: one unblemished lamb in its first year as a burnt offering, one unblemished ewe lamb in its first year as a sin offering, and one unblemished ram as a peace offering.

The original Hebrew word for sin offering is hattath. The root of the word, het-tet-alef also spells the traditional Hebrew word for sin, heit, and the hattath is elsewhere prescribed as the offering to atone for a number of sins (Leviticus 4).

But has the nazirite actually sinned in some way? Various answers are offered: that he sinned by ending his term as a nazirite (Nahmanides), or that he had sinned by depriving himself of wine (N’darim 10a).

It seems that according to the p’shat, the nazirite has not sinned, but rather the term hattath must be better understood. The root het-tet-alef in Hebrew also means a form of purification by purging (e.g., in Leviticus 14: and Ezekiel 43:22), and is even the modern Hebrew root for sterilization. Similarly the Hebrew root kaf-pei-reish not only means atonement, it also means to physically scour or purge (also a few times in Ezekiel 43), and is the verb classically used to describe the act of “kashering”vessels that were used to cook sacrificial meat. The hattath of the nazirite, like other hatta’oth, comes to scour (l’chappeir) a certain factor from the nazirite’s soul. Ordinarily, the hattath removes the “stain” of the sin, but in this case, the hattath removes the holiness the nazirite obtained during his term of service.

Letter to a Rabbi: Privately Grown Fruit in the Public Domain


Concerning the taking of grapes growing on a vine standing in private property but jutting out into the public domain. Can passerby eat of the fruit as a snack? I formulate the question that way because I will not yet approach the issue of separating tithes, etc. from those fruits.

Now, my goal in writing this is to show that the answer that I have heard to above question, namely “yes,” fits with the way Rabbi Joseph Karo understood the relevant talmudic sources, and can be and has been relied upon in practice.

The discussion in Bava M’tzi’a 107a (“R’ Judah said to Rabin b. R’ Nahman”) concerning a fruit tree close to or on the border between two private domains seems to indicate that the halacha is as Maimonides rules in Neighbors 4:9, that the owners of the domains both have rights to the fruits.  This ruling is quoted verbatim in Hoshen Mishpat 155:29 and in 167:2, but in the latter case, note that the Rema adds that if the tree is actually standing in the property of one but only has branches jutting into the domain of the other, the fruit belong entirely to the one in whose domain the tree stands. We see that the Rema makes a distinction between a tree “on the border” and one that is certainly not. The fruit of the former is “split” among the owners of the domains, whereas the latter belongs entirely to the owner of the tree. We also see that Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch make no such distinction.

The Vilna Gaon writes that the source for the Rema’s distinction is Bava Bathra 27b, which was first brought into the discussion by the Tosafists. The Tosafists say that in the case on Bava M’tzi’a 107a, it can not be that if a tree is standing entirely within someone’s domain, then the neighbor should have a right to any of the fruit on the branches that cross the border, although Rashi seems to understand that it can be. The Gemara in Bava Bathra 27b introduces the idea that a tree feeds from the ground within a 16 cubit (that would be well over 20 feet!) radius of its trunk. If the border between two private domains is within that radius, then the tree would feed from both sides of the border. The Tosafists seem to understand the second (and presumably halachically accepted) version of Rabbi Yohanan’s subsequent statement as meaning that the one in whose domain the tree stands is not only not considered a “thief” for having his tree draw from the property of others, all of the tree’s fruits, even those that grow on branches jutting over the border into the domain of the other, are his to the extent that he brings bikkurim from them, and that is a “stipulation of Joshua.” If he brings from all of the tree’s fruit as bikkurim, they must all be his, and therefore, any tree under discussion on Bava M’tzi’a 107b must practically be on the border for us to entertain that the owner of the other domain has a right to some of the fruit.

I believe that Rashi, Maimonides, and the Shulhan Aruch do not subscribe to the Tosafists’ and Rema’s distinction because they believe that Bava Bathra 27b is not discussing who has the legal right to the fruits (possession, etc.), but rather is pointing out that even though the fruits are technically to be divided between the owners of both domains because the border is within the tree’s 16-cubit radius, only the one in whose domain the trunk is standing may bring bikkurim, and that is the novelty of Joshua’s stipulation. This seems to be way Maimonides rules in his own Bikkurim 2:11. As for the law concerning who can bring of those fruits as bikkurim, we have seen from the first chapter of Tractate Bikkurim that the standard of ownership for that law is much higher. It is not sufficient that the fruit be legally his, even to the extent that he must be the one to tithe that fruit. Rather, the fruit also has had to grow on “his” land, and therefore, in the eyes of the Shulhan Aruch, et al., any argument for or against ownership brought from sources specifically discussing bikkurim should be irrelevant to our question.

This concerns a tree that approaches the border of another individual. As for a privately owned tree whose branches jut into the public domain, the last Mishna in Bava Bathra Chapter 2 (also on 27b) mentions the right of individuals to even cut down said branches in order to make room for their passing beasts. This is codified in Torts 13:26. Now, what if those branches have fruit on them? We find nowhere in the early sources that the cutter should be concerned or liable for the loss of value to the tree or the destruction of its fruit. For example, why do we not find that the owner of the tree can demand that the branches only be cut once its fruits have ripened? Destroying the branches before they ripen will of course make them worthless. Similarly, we do not find that the cutter must then trouble himself to go and gather whatever fruit there may have been and bring it to the owner. The right of any member of the public to destroy those branches seems to indicate that the branches and what grows on them are in his “possession.” This halacha is also brought in Hoshen Mishpat 417:4, where the author also mentions that the owner of the tree is not even given notification that branches of his tree are to be cut down.

However, the Shulhan Aruch, (Hoshen Mishpat 260:6) in discussing lost and found property, gives a number of cases whereby ownership of a found item can be assumed due to the item’s location:

“A fig tree that leans into the [public] path and figs were found underneath it: they are permitted [to the finder] because the owner of the tree despairs of recovering them because figs and the like become ruined when they fall, but olives and carobs and the like would be forbidden [under similar circumstances]…”

This law, although it would allow for taking grapes that had already fallen (I am assuming that grapes are fig-like in their susceptibility to spoilage) does not allow for taking all types of fruits, and neither figs or the like that are still attached. The status of fruit is contingent on the owner’s despair or allowance, implying that if neither are present, the fruit are entirely his. However this rule also leaves open a large theoretical door for societal allowance and/or “Law of the Land,” i.e., if societal conventions or state law would declare any and all such fruits as free for the taking, then even if an owner had specified intent not to allow others to take of those fruits, others would be allowed to. Note also the corresponding passage in the Concise Code of Jewish Law 182:15, where the standard for passerby having the right to take of the fruit is even lower: If they are the type of fruit that fall down and become ruined, or if the animals that frequent the place can eat them. This would seem to be the basis for the rule that I was taught, namely, that in our communities, the grapes etc. that grow from private yards but are in practice within the public domain, may be taken and eaten by passerby, because if they don’t, the birds and lizards will. 

The Israeli Lands Law, 5729, can be found here,, 8:4:50, but note that the law allows passerby to take from fruit that has already fallen. It makes no mention of fruit that has yet to fall.

Further, and to me this is the most important part, I do not believe that this law (Hoshen Mishpat 260:6) is discussing our case at all. Notice that it is included here, and in MT Theft and Found Property 15:16 concerning exactly that: lost and found property. See the source discussion, Bava M’tzi’a 21a-b, which is less about assuming that these fruits fell right from the branches above them, but more about determining that because this fig tree (or vine) is adjacent to the public domain, it indicates that those figs on the street are some of those that the owner had already picked and gathered from that very tree, and the novelty of the teaching is that the right of a finder to keep those fruits would depend on the hardiness of the fruit, but if we were discussing fruit that was actually growing or had grown over the border and in the public domain, then those are not owned by the owner of the tree. Interpreting the Gemara, Maimonides, and the Shulhan Aruch this way avoids a contradiction to which I alluded earlier: If a passerby were sometimes within his rights to destroy those branches and their fruits, why would he suddenly have to treat those fruits as owned by someone else?

An Atheist Is, Unfortunately, An Atheist

The title is a paraphrase of something Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik once said concerning an appiqorus, a word that once upon a time meant an Epicurean but came to be a general term for heretic in the post-Talmuidc Rabbinic literature. He was referring to those Jews who were honest and sincere believers in God and practitioners of the Torah and commandments, but, due to ignorance or some other intellectual disadvantage, harbored what were actually heretical beliefs. Dr. Marc Shapiro once wrote a book about the authority of Maimonides’s 13 Principles of Faith, (link to the article that spawned the book) and noted that although there is room to say that someone who inadvertently holds heretical beliefs, for example, he was never educated to believe that God is not corporeal and he is not learned enough to investigate the matter, should not be held liable in the eyes of the Torah, similar to the rule that one who violates the Sabbath inadvertently, by performing acts which he did not know were prohibited, is not held liable. However, many authorities, Rav Chaim included, apparently held that for whatever reason, one who held heretical beliefs was, unfortunately, still a heretic.

If so, then in my lifetime I have met many Atheist-yet-Orthodox rabbis, and I have read the works of still more such inadvertent Orthodox Atheists.

Some years ago I wrote how “R’ Schachter came to speak at Lander College. The first time was to sit on a panel with Rabbi Lau, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, and Rabbi Tendler, and discuss Religious Zionism in the post-Zionist era” but I did not get around to writing about what they had to say, although what R’ Schachter did say that day made a very strong impression on me. Firstly, he mentioned that he was disappointed in how the Zionist establishment had somehow not conveyed the historically positive approach to Zionism and the advent of the State of Israel Rabbi Soloveitchik had so eloquently expounded. After he spoke, I informed R’Schachter that in the mostly Modern-Orthodox Yeshiva Gedola I attended, the favored students ran the hashkafic spectrum from anti-Zionist to non-Zionist, and the situation was about the same in the yeshivas within his sphere of influence. Secondly, he made mention of the following issue described at the Daas Torah blog:

When the guns were silent after the incredibly short war in June 1967, Israelis discovered that not only had they survived but they had soundly thrashed the massive armies of the surrounding Arab countries and in addition had acquired the West Bank – which included the Old City of Jerusalem and the location of the Temple. Everyone seemed to say it was an open miracle. There was one major dissenting voice – the Satmar Rebbe – who insisted that it was not only not a miracle but the victory was in fact the work of Satan. He emphatically stated that miracles don’t happen for the Zionist  – especially to support the theological crime known as the State of Israel.
Several months later at the annual Aguda Convention, this astounding event was the central topic of discussion  Speaker after speaker spoke on the topic and the gedolim were clearly divided on whether to agree or disagree with the Satmar position. One of those who publicly agreed with the Satmar view was Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky.
At the Melava Malka that weekend, the keynote speaker was Rav Itchie Meyer Levin – the Gerrer Rebbe’s son-in-law. He of course spoke about the topic. After some introductory comments he made the following observation. “Not so long ago the Jewish people suffered the horrible loss of 6  million Jews in the Holocaust. When we went to the gedolim for an explanation we were told that we must be silent and accept this because it was G-d’s will. Now we were just faced with another possible holocaust in the Land of Israel but the Jews were saved this time. We hear gedolim who say that these millions who were saved were saved by Satan. How is that when it comes to the death of Jews it is G-d’s work but when it comes to rescuing them from death it is Satan? It can’t be.”
Rav Schachter then declared that we of course can not hold of the Satmar position, because “it is Avoda Zara.” Jews see God throughout history. We are bidden to thank him and praise Him for the good and for the bad. We attribute the Jewish people’s downfalls as punishments for our failures to keep His word, and victories are attributed to His acting out of love toward us and commitment to the Covenant. We certainly do not believe in the Christian notion of a Satan who can act outside of whatever role he has been given by God, nor do we believe in some kind of dualistic conflict between a good God and a Devil bent on evil. The traditional conception of the Satan is merely the angel who acts to tempt men, to test them if they will walk in God’s ways, an integral part of the creation but no more powerful to influence history than any other of the ministering angels who are charged with the other natural forces. To believe that something other than God saved His people is the height of idolatry. And a prophetic pronouncement if there ever was one.
But what would we call someone who believes that the events of the Six Day war, or for that matter, the founding of the state, were innocuous, neither acts of Divine providence, nor some nefarious doings of the Devil, but just part of a long chain of human wars and politics that will not matter in the long run? I believe that that would be the atheist approach, and a subscriber would be called an atheist, because he does not see God’s involvement in those events. Indeed, most rabbinical types I have met who are not observers of Israeli Independence Day as a religious celebration treat the day and its surrounding history as a mere historical curiosity, the day when the goyim stopped being in charge of the borders of the country and the political structure that generates the issues of national budgeting and shouldering the military burden was created. But it is not religious.
The question I fielded two weeks ago was, how come so many Rabbis, especially in and around Jerusalem, do not observe Independence Day, but still observe Jerusalem Day? Weren’t the circumstances surrounding the days similar?
The answer I gave them: There are no atheists in a foxhole. When it comes to Israeli Independence Day, they reason that the war was drawn out and the circumstances that precipitated the Declaration of Independence did not involve an immediate and clear threat of destruction, and the British just happened to forsake the mandate on that date. Perhaps history did not demand that the state be declared that day, and it could have worked out differently. But the six day war was thrust upon the Jews suddenly. All knew that they faced imminent and swift destruction:
As is well known by now, the mood leading up to the Six Days War was very gloomy. Many in Israeli [sic] and in the Diaspora were anticipating a war which would be very costly in life – both for the soldiers and civilian population. The more optimistic view was that Israel would take a harsh beating but would survive. There is no need to mention the pessimistic view.
and the victory came even more suddenly and involved the emotions of being able to return to the holy sites of the Kotel and Hebron. Further, many of the Rabbis the questioners are familiar with were possibly studying in Israel during the Six Day War or lived through the period of intense national anxiety that permeated the international Jewish community in the days leading up to war. In short, they experienced the miracle themselves. This distinction is critical and welcome, because it brought back many good, religious Jews from the brink of godlessness. More than that: even the Jews who did not consider themselves religious had a sensation of something more, and the great movement toward Teshuva that is so strong today, began.


Q&A: Bananas, Anti-Zionism, and Morning & Evening Prayers in the Afternoon

Question: Why is the bracha on a banana ha’adama when in non-snowy countries it’s not seasonal but grows all year?

Answer: In Orah Hayim 203:3 we find that the mu’azish (bananas are from the the genus musa) are considered a food on which the blessing should be ha’adama because they do not grow on the types of trees that our sages recognized, trees that have permanent, wooden sections that give fruit on an annual basis.

Question: Someone said modern-day Israel or its wars can’t prove anything with regards to the geula or moshiach because moshiach has to come first, so this doesn’t count towards our redemption. Does Rambam say it has to be in the order of first the messiah, then war, then Jews in Israel, or could this be the start?

Answer: See what I wrote about this some years ago here. The short version: Maimonides (Laws of Kings and their Wars, 12:2) writes

There are some Sages who say that Elijah’s coming will precede the coming of the Messiah. All these [the War of Gog and Magog, and Elijah’s future ministry mentioned in the previous law] and similar matters cannot be definitely known by man until they occur, for these matters are undefined in the prophets’ words and even the wise men have no established tradition regarding these matters except their own interpretation of the verses. Therefore, there is a controversy among them regarding these matters.

Regardless of the debate concerning these questions, neither the order of the occurrence of these events or their precise detail are among the fundamental principles of the faith. A person should not occupy himself with the Aggadot and homiletics concerning these and similar matters, nor should he consider them as essentials, for study of them will neither bring fear or love of God.

We see that Maimonides himself did not declare that the events of the Redemption have to occur in a specific order, unlike the views of the Satmar Rebbe, R’ Shach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and others who opposed the Zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel precisely because they preceded the advent of the Messiah. More so, we have been made witness to the ingathering of the exiles happening first, and it could very well be that the Temple will be rebuilt before he appears. I personally do not care about the order, but pray that all come about as soon as possible.

Question: The Chassidim say the Maggid paskened they can daven after chatsot is that lechatchila or bediavad?

Answer: The halacha as brought by the R’ma in Orah Hayim 89 is that it is forbidden to pray the morning service after noon, while the unstated opinion in disagreement would feel that shaharith in the afternoon would not count as anything. See the details here. Think about it. If one prays after noon, that’s minha, not shaharith. Real hasidim pray the morning service at sunrise.

Question: Can you lechatchila daven maariv early before sunset like Shabbat then say Shema and Omer later that night?

Answer: It seems that Maimonides would only allow such on Fridays and Sabbaths, but others allow it everyday. Maimonides would point to the Talmudic teaching that sages would pray maariv early on Fridays and then recite qiddush and eat their meals, while on Sabbaths they would recite ma’ariv and havdala early (but not perform forbidden labor until nightfall), while the others would say that the novelty of those teachings is that while one can technically recite ma’ariv early every day of the week, on  Fridays and Sabbaths reciting ma’ariv early allows one to then recite qiddush or havdala early. That is, one could not accept the Sabbath early and recite qiddush without first reciting his evening prayers. This latter opinion is that of the Shulhan Aruch and the Mishna B’rura, and the one that old folks and those who live in extreme latitudes rely on during the summer when they gather for evening services before sunset.